The last time my husband and I went to the state fair was before having children, and we went basically to be ironic and make ourselves feel skinny.
This year was the same deal, however it costs around $600 per body part to get into state fairs nowadays, so I suspect we both had a small expectation of family-friendly fun.
The parking lot is generally my favorite part. I’m always amazed at the people. The freedom with which they will bare their midriffs, countless batches of deep-fried Oreos and a slow metabolism no matter. And the I-haven’t-been-cute-for-ten-years children trying to butter up their chaperones on the way in with arms and legs wrapped around their rickety old parent’s body in a painful attempt at a piggy back ride.
As it turns out, the parking lot is also my son’s favorite part of fairs and, not able to control his emotional state quite as well as me, broke into tears when we had to move onward and he didn’t get to play on the bulldozer.
$9,567 later, we enter the fair.
My quasi-Waldorf, only-give-my-kid-one-book-at-a-time-and-wood-to-play-with mind just about liquified upon an assault of pinging sounds, fried things smells, twirling things, rampant obesity, rampant t-shirts declaring love for America.
Where were the gluten and dairy free food booths!?!? I thought, quickly realizing ostrich leg would be my only snack option.
I reminded myself this was a special event, like being abducted by aliens, so just relax and enjoy it.
We headed straight for the barn area where it appeared that the cool animals like the cows and horses had disappeared rapture-like from the stalls, leaving behind their half-eaten hay and a waning musk.
All that remained were some seemingly forgotten ducks and chickens, each with a ribbon tied to their respective cages. Even the rooster whose comb looked like a cancerous wad of chewed gum had a ribbon. Already skeptical how no one seemed in any sort of hurry to claim these birds, we headed back to the bustle of the fair.
Lingering near the bounce houses and creaking Tilt-O-Whirls and unsure what to do with exactly with a 1.75 year old who’s too short to ride any rides and who was wriggling in my arms, I made the rookie mistake of someone who thinks people can see in front of them, and let my son stand free.
He took two steps and was knocked flat to the pavement by a man I’d estimate to be about six months pregnant. I could only be upset with myself, though, as the guy had no way of seeing a 3-footer, or his own feet for that matter.
I scooped up my discombobulated little guy and suggested we check out the tractors. Fifteen hours of steering-wheel-turning, engine-noise-making, and demands to be lifted up and down from every model of tractor known to man later, my husband mentioned that next time we could just go to Home Depot.
I could tell my spouse was wanting more tantalizing fair action so we refinanced our house to buy a lemonade and headed to the game stalls. There he searched for a favorite game from childhood that he described as, “you race people with other balls with your own ball.”
I wasn’t positive what we were looking for by this description. It might have been a well-known game like skee-ball, or something non-existent, but I couldn’t be sure as my husband used to play a game with his brother called “touch the guy and the other person is it.” Apparently unaware that the rest of America had unanimously decided to call this game “tag.”
We stopped instead at a game where you bank a baseball into a laundry basket.
I used my son’s innocence to pay $3 for 3 balls instead of $5 for 5. The carney then used my arrogance to steal my $3 back, handing the balls to my toddler who, though the game looked irresistibly simple, I highly doubted would win a thing.
I snatched a ball from him, chucked it at the backboard and tried not to be surprised how the laws of state fair physics plopped it no where near the gaping laundry basket.
The little guy then pushed the rest of the balls off the ledge while the carney laughed a maniacal, “that’ll teach you to fu$k with a carney’s cash-flow” laugh masked as a “oh how cute” laugh.
All this wasted cash was getting to me. I needed this fair to start earning its $16,987 price tag.
And then I saw it. The most amazing of all things that I never even realized could exist.
A rock puppet show on wheels.
“You kids are super!”a trio of social security benefit-receiving musicians belted as they turned and parked a mass of shaggy puppets.
It felt like a time-warp onto the set of an unpopular PBS kids show from the 80’s.
“You can’t have fun when you get in trouble!” They chanted. The woman in the group bounced one shoulder-padded shoulder to the beat, her face expressionlessly fabulous in her 80’s shades.
I ran with my son to stand in front of them, assuming they would park for a minute to put on a little show.
But the driver, who may have been preoccupied as he was also the keyboard player, never stopped turning in circles long enough for a crowd to gather. I thought this a little strange until I realized the bit about your kid being super and staying out of trouble in order to have fun, while both noble messages, were all the material they had.
Still, these death-defying puppet rockers were too hip to leave me with any disappointment.
And after we finally located some cool barnyard animals and my son witnessed a calf drinking from its mama’s udders, blowing his mind and I fear setting me up for some unrealistic expectations this late in our nursing career, I started to realize a stroll through the parking lot, a trip to Home Depot, and sticking my head in a pinball machine, while they would be a free alternative to the fair, it wouldn’t have been quite the same.
I knew this for sure the next morning when, during his daily pony ride on my knees, the little guy raised one arm in the air, just as the mechanical bull contestants had tried to do for the $200 prize, and he held on tight to my pajama pants for a solid 8 seconds.
At this rate, his parents will be the ones in the parking lot doing the buttering up of their son, the champion mechanical bull rider.